A page appears in Cuba when Raul Castro takes his place for the next generation

Raul Castro will officially resign from Cuban political life during the country’s Communist Party Congress, which begins on Friday. He is expected to step down from the party’s general secretary, the country’s most powerful role, to Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took over from Castro as Cuba’s president in 2018. The move represents a new step in the transfer of power from Castro. family of a new generation born after the 1959 revolution.

More than 60 years after Fidel Castro entered Havana and took power, Cuba is ready for public life without a member of the Castro clan. The 89-year-old Raul, a leader of the 1959 revolution who first took over the Cuban presidency from his ailing older brother in 2006, will attend his last Communist Party congress as general secretary this weekend. At the end of the four-day event, Castro will hand over the reins to his newly elected boss, with his protégé Diaz-Canel as the favorite in line for the role.

“Raul Castro’s departure from political life has been expected for a long time,” Cuba specialist Stéphane Witkowski, at the Institute for Higher Learning on Latin America (IHEAL) in Paris, told FRANCE 24. “It represents a step in the generation process of transition between those who lived through the 1959 revolution and the new generation. “

“In fact, the date was not really chosen at random,” the specialist stated, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the failed landing attempt in Pigs Bay by 1,400 anti-Castro paramilitary personnel trained and funded by the CIA. “It’s very symbolic,” Witkowski said.

The transition between generations

Cuba’s political transition had already seen a crucial line crossed in 2018 when Castro relinquished the country’s presidency to Diaz-Canel. The former Minister of Higher Education, who turns 61 next week, embodies a new generation that grew old after the revolution.

This legacy, under Cuba’s one-party system, was carefully prepared and Castro retained a significant political role. He remained general secretary of the Communist Party, a post that had hitherto been combined with the country’s presidency.

A woman wearing a face mask as a precaution against Covid-19 walks past a banner with images of leaders of the Cuban revolution and President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L), in Havana, March 3, 2021. © Yamil Lage / AFP

And yet, according to Cuba’s constitution, the Communist Party is the ultimate political force that governs society and the state. “It really is the highest authority that defines political directions during its congress, which is held every five years,” Witkowski explained. So even with the powers separated, the party under Castro retained control of Cuba’s progress.

For the past three years, Diaz-Canel’s presidency has represented continuity under Castro’s leadership. His government continued with the main reforms initiated earlier, for example in moving to end Cuba’s dual currency system. In January, Diaz-Canel’s government continued major economic reforms aimed at reconciling the two local currencies while significantly reassessing wages, pensions and consumer prices.

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Diaz-Canel is the favorite to take on the role of new party secretary after Castro. “Nothing is decided. It happens through a vote in Congress,” Witkowski explained. “But most likely it will be him.”

What role for Raul Castro?

It remains to be seen what role Castro will play in the future. During the party’s last congress in 2016, when asked about his plans for life after politics, he said he wanted to retire to “take care of his grandchildren” and “read books like the rest of the historical generation”.

Still, it’s hard to imagine Fidel Castro’s younger brother disappearing from the political scene altogether. “He seems to agree with his brother’s model,” Witkowski said of Raul. “Fidel Castro also gave up his political roles one after the other. He then assumed a neutral status as an adviser. He actually presented himself as ‘a sage.’ . “

Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel. © Ismael Francisco, AFP

Former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, for his part, finds it impossible to imagine Castro withdrawing completely from Cuban political life. “He will always be there,” Alzugaray told Agence France-Presse. “It could be a model similar to what happened in China when Deng Xiaoping no longer had a position but he was still alive and he must therefore be consulted about everything. He had the last word. “

The most serious economic crisis in 30 years

The new generation at the helm of Cuba will have their work cut out with the island nation facing challenges on several fronts in the midst of the most serious economic crisis in more than 30 years.

Weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic that has halted valuable tourism and in the midst of US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Cuba’s GDP plummeted by 11 percent by 2020. In recent months, Cubans have been waiting hours for deliveries due to supermarket shortages.

The country’s leadership will also deal with growing opposition motivated by the late 2018 arrival of mobile internet via 3G. In a nation that had previously been among the least connected in the world, the Internet has released expression on Cuba, allowing the population to express their demands and take to the streets to demonstrate phenomena previously seen on the island. In fact, an item on the agenda at this weekend’s Communist Party Congress explores a way to be “more effective in the fight against political-ideological subversion” on social media.

>> Cuba may soon become the smallest country to develop its own Covid-19 jabs

“There will be many challenges,” Witkowski explained. “As far as the economy is concerned, they have to deal with this reform that puts an end to currency duality, in order to reduce agricultural dependence and continue to attract further foreign investment.

“And, of course, they will also need to continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, although the experience from a public health perspective has been relatively positive.”

Cuba regularly praises its crisis management and has only registered 88,445 cases, including 476 deaths, among the population of 11.2 million.

“What will also need to be decided is what is next in the revolutionary process. What will become of the process of institutionalizing the 1959 revolution?” asked Witkowski.

“Raul Castro is a figure who had an impact on an entire people,” says Witkowski. “From now on, Cuban politics will enter a new phase. It will be up to this new generation to raise the torch and prove their legitimacy.”

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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